REVIEW: DVD Release: My Father Pablo Escobar

Film: My Father Pablo Escobar
Release date: 12th July 2010
Certificate: Exempt
Running time: 90 mins
Director: Nicolas Entel
Starring: Sebastian Marroquin
Genre: Documentary
Studio: Brightspark
Format: DVD
Country: Argentina/Colombia

“Juan Pablo Escobar has agreed to tell the story of his life with his father, Pablo Escobar, once described as the ‘World’s Greatest Outlaw’. It is also the story of the sons of Pablo Escobar’s most prominent victims. It is the story of a country torn apart by violence and revenge, of death and reconciliation, and of a son’s attempt to atone for the sins of the father.”

Juan Pablo (renamed Sebastian Marroquin) was only 16 years old when his father was killed. As the documentary explains, at the time of his death, Pablo Escobar was a fugitive fighting three wars within Colombia: one with the state, one with a rival drug cartel, and one with a rogue vigilante organisation employing guerrilla tactics as bloody as his own killing methods. Pablo Escobar was no ordinary criminal. At the height of his power, his Medellin drug cartel controlled a rumoured 80% of the world’s cocaine trade. In 1989, Forbes Magazine listed Escobar as the world’s seventh richest man, worth an estimated 25 billion dollars. Pablo Escobar thought nothing of assassinating anyone who crossed his path and he is blamed for destroying Avianca flight 203 in order to assassinate one politician.

Escobar’s son Sebastian was forced to flee Colombia after his father’s death and went into exile in Argentina. He attempted to build a new life for himself as a designer and architect, but he has been haunted by the final words he gave to a Colombian journalist who called him to inform him his father had been killed. In a rage, he swore to avenge his father’s death, and in doing so, his father’s violent legacy was passed onto him. Sebastian’s taped conversation, complete with threats against those who had killed his father, was made public and the stigma has never left Sebastian, but he is not like his father, and is determined to make amends.

My Father, Pablo Escobar follows Sebastian as he attempts to contact the victims of his father’s crimes. Sebastian hopes that by clarifying himself and apologising on behalf of his family, not only will his father’s victims find some peace, but also that the gesture can show that the cycle of violence can be broken, and that Colombia as a whole can choose a different path. But will the victims of Pablo Escobar’s violent assassinations accept his son Sebastian’s attempts at reconciliation, or is the anger and hurt too great a hurdle to overcome?

The documentary uses a variety of methods to drive the narrative, but mainly consists of interviews with Sebastian Marroquin, his mother Maria Isabel Santos Caballero, and the sons of Escobar’s most prominent political victims; Colombian minister for Justice Rodrigo Lara Bonilla and presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan. These interviews are shot over some time, and they are cleverly interwoven with library footage from Colombian news channels, plus taped recordings of Escobar from phone taps and conversations with journalists. Using these methods, director Nicolas Entel is able to build a picture of the man behind the myth, as well as showing the viewer the very real impact of Escobar’s actions.

As well as the seemingly unfettered access to the grown up Sebastian, we are also shown an Escobar family home movie shot when Sebastian was still a boy. In it, we glimpse the other world in which the then Juan Pablo inhabited. We see all the trappings and unbelievable riches; the home movie itself is like no other containing its own score, a voice over, and an introduction shot from a helicopter in the style of the opening sequence of ‘80s TV soap opera Dallas.

Sebastian talks frankly about his father during intimate moments; we watch as he looks back, either at the home movie or later in the film where Sebastian listens to a recording of his father singing along to opera. In these moments, the documentary never allows the viewer to forget that Sebastian is also a victim. To him Pablo Escobar was not a drug-dealing murderer. The father he knew was a rich man who bought him everything a child could ever want - a father who cheated at monopoly, a father who despite all his flaws still loved his family and wanted to be loved by them in return.

There are many outstanding moments in the documentary but watching the sons of Galan and Lara Bonilla discussing their dead father’s legacy, or deciding whether to accept Sebastian’s apology on behalf of his family are completely immersive. When the victims sons agree to meet with Sebastian, there is no hiding the powerful emotions at play, and the camera lingers on the faces of these men who are clearly haunted by the past, and wrestling with their emotions. It would have been impossible to make this documentary without setting up or manipulating certain scenarios in order to get the footage required, but it is of great credit to everyone involved that these obvious manipulations in no way detract from what is an incredibly emotive piece of filmmaking.

Ultimately it is up to the viewer to decide whether or not the actions of Sebastian Marroquin could ever have the impact that he so clearly desires. But as a snapshot of the human side of drug trafficking and the misery heaped upon the families of the victims, from all sides of the equation, My Father, Pablo Escobar is a brilliant and hard-hitting documentary. SM

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